Of all the things that the disciples could have asked Jesus to teach them, they said, “Lord teach us to pray.” These twelve men saw in Jesus a tremendous dedication to prayer. It carried Him atop a mountain for 40 days and into a garden late into the night. Jesus’ earthly ministry began with a time of prayer and ended with a time of prayer. No matter the circumstances, how little the sleep, how taxed the body, or how heavy the heart, He could not be dissuaded nor distracted from prayer. His disciples saw this dedication and they wanted part of it. “Lord teach us,” they said.
But why? What is the purpose of prayer? Why did Jesus invest a great amount of His time in isolation and on His knees? Can we learn something by His example?
Oswald Chambers said,
The purpose of prayer is to reveal the presence of God equally present, all the time, in every condition.
The theme of prayer is woven throughout Scripture. Prayer comes onto the scene in Genesis and never leaves the pages. With each recorded prayer, we see God’s activity both in the heart and in the life of the one praying.
LORD Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life. 1 Samuel 1:11
Hannah was a barren woman who deeply longed for a child. She expressed her heartfelt desire with a wordless prayer while at the house of the Lord in Shiloh. Her anguish and grief did not go unnoticed and when inquired about she said that she was “deeply troubled” and had been “pouring out my soul to the Lord.” (1 Samuel 1:15)
Hannah knew that only God could give her the deepest desire of her heart.
The result? Immediately, Hannah’s countenance was no longer downcast and she worshiped the Lord. In time, the Lord gave Hannah what she asked of Him and her arms soon held her son, Samuel.
I cry aloud to the LORD; I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy. I pour out before him my complaint; before him I tell my trouble. Psalm 142:1-2
Before David was the king of Israel, he spent many years running for his very life from jealous King Saul. David learned during these years that God alone was his refuge and his very present help in times of trouble. Powerless, alone, and hidden away in a cave, David cried to the Lord and told Him, “It is you who watch over my way,” “You are my refuge,” and, “Rescue me.” (Psalm 142:3, 5, 6)
David knew that even in the darkest, most remote cavern, God still watched over him and listened to his cries.
The result? Despite his desperate situation, David was able to praise God and speak of the rescue that he trusted God would bring. (Psalm 57) And, in time, God did indeed deliver him from the hand of King Saul, bringing him out of the cave and sitting him upon a throne.
King Asa’s Prayer
Then Asa called to the LORD his God and said, “LORD, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, LORD our God, for we rely on you.” 2 Chronicles 14:11
King Asa, a righteous king of Judah, did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord. Because He sought the Lord, the Lord had given him rest on every side. He had an army of 580,00 brave fighting men armed with shields, bows and spears. YET, despite his prosperity and military strength, he called out to the Lord in the Valley of Zephathah and said, “We are powerless,” and, “We rely on you,” when he was face-to-face against an invading army. He did not look behind to count his army and size up its strength. He looked to God and His might instead.
King Asa knew that he was weak and powerless without God.
The result? King Asa watched as the Lord struck down and crushed the enemy. And, because of the victory, the land of Judah was once again at peace.
All three of these prayers – a prayer of petition at the house of the Lord, a prayer of praise in a cave, and a prayer of protection in the valley – have the indelible marks of unstaggering faith. Hannah trusted God with her heart. David trusted God in the darkness. King Asa trusted God in the battle. Each one turned to Him and never looked any other direction. They poured out their troubles, their souls, their hearts, and their praise to the Lord.
Spoken in a variety of ways and in a variety of places, prayer bends the ear of God. (Psalm 116:2) We see this happen again and again in Scripture. Jonah prayed inside the belly of a whale. Paul prayed in prison. Moses prayed in the desert. Nehemiah prayed in the presence of the king. Jesus prayed on the cross. Every single hero of the faith was a person of prayer. And, God heard each one.
Our relationship with Christ begins with a prayer of profession (Romans 10:10) as we call on the name of the Lord to be saved (Romans 10:12). From that moment on, we are invited to call upon Him anytime, anywhere, and for any reason. It is His very will for us (1 Thessalonians 4:3) and our means of communication with Him. He desires to walk with us and talk with us just as He did in the cool of the day in the garden of Eden. But, instead of meeting Him in the garden, we find Him in a grander, more exquisite setting – in His heavenly throne room.
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16
The beautiful picture that this verse paints captivates my mind every time that I approach the Lord in prayer. I am not a lowly subject who fears standing in the presence of my King. Rather, He calls me to come before him boldly. I am in His presence, with Christ interceding for me at His right hand, and the splendor of it all fills my every sense. And, at His throne, His seat of mercy, awaits the grace that I desperately seek.
Like Hannah, I begin to pour my heart out to Him. I tell Him my hopes, my desires, my longings.
Like David, I seek refuge in Him. I cry to Him. I list out my troubles.
Like King Asa, I call out to Him for help in the battle. I take inventory of my strength, and, finding it woefully lacking, I ask Him to supply His.
All at His feet. All at His throne. All in His presence.
Like Hannah, my countenance is lifted. Like David, light begins to shine in my present darkness. Like King Asa, I am assured of the victory to come.
After the disciples said, "Lord teach us...", Jesus responded with:
This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come, your will be done…” Matthew 6:9-10
In one final agonizing scene before the Cross, we see Jesus once again praying. With a soul overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” His cries were fervent, blood and water poured from His pores. He ended His prayer with, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
And, with this last prayer before He headed to Calvary, Jesus modeled for us the true purpose of prayer – to exchange our will for God’s will.
Jesus knew that His Father’s will was to crush Him and cause Him to suffer so that His life would be an offering for sin. (Isaiah 53:10) The humanity in Him wanted there to be another way. But, while on His face in prayer, He surrendered His flesh and submitted His own will to that of His Father’s. His words changed from “me” and “I” to “you” and “yours”.
And then, like Hannah, His countenance lifted. Like David, He faced the approaching darkness. And, like King Asa, He entered the battle.
God was fully present, fully in control. And, in that time of prayer, He heard the cries of His Son and supplied Him with the physical strength needed to carry out the very reason He came to earth…to do the will of the Father.
And thus, He does the same for us. When on our knees or on our faces before the throne, we find grace and mercy to help in our hour of need. We are encouraged, strengthened, reminded, enabled, and ultimately surrendered to rise ready to do what He has called us to do. And that, is the purpose of prayer.
For further encouragement, check out the rest of our Prayer Series:
The Power of Prayer - Part 1
The Perseverance of Prayer - Part 2
The Promise of Prayer - Part 3
The Purpose of Prayer - Part 4
First, I am a child of God. And, like a child, I am always learning and growing. The more I know Him, the more I love Him. Second, I am a wife to a good man. Missions is his thing while teaching women to love God’s Word is mine. Third, I am a mama to three plus one on the way. Old friends call me Becky, newer ones call me Rebecca, and the most intimate ones call me Beck. You can just call me friend.